05 May 2011
Electronic signs at railway stations – good but not perfect
Brian Micklethwait

As a Grumpy Old Man, I believe it is my duty to note some good things as and when they happen, if only to establish my bona fides when grumping about bad things.  And one of the trends in human affairs of recent years that I have liked is the way that really quite informative electronic signs have multiplied in railway stations concerning the next bunch of trains, and if you are even luckier, at bus stops concerning the next bunch of buses.

They could be better, mind you.  The railway signs typically tell you all the stations that the next train will be stopping at, but it doesn’t tell you anything about what stations the one after that will be stopping at, or the one after that. They only tell you the final destination.  Not knowing whether the 13.36 will stop where you want it to might seriously affect how you feel about the 13.25.  Yet, as it is, you have to wait until the 13.25 has come and gone before you learn for sure where the 13.36 will be stopping, at which point you could already have placed a bad bet, by not getting on board the 13.25.

So, these signs are not perfect.  But anything is better than ploughing through an idiotic Dead Sea Scroll timetable, which tells you the entire contents of some gink’s head last October, concerning all the railway trains that he believes will be in motion in the south of England, this entire May.  Talk about a needle of information in a haystack of too much information.

Another imperfection of these signs, from my point of view, is that they can often be impossible to photograph.

Take this sign, for instance, which I snapped yesterday:


That was actually quite informative, yesterday, when I looked at it for real.  It told me, while I was waiting at Vauxhall on the way to visit my brother, that there had been a fatality on the line at Clapham Junction, and that I and all my fellow travellers should expect delays and rearrangements.  And no, since you ask, it was not moving.  Or, it didn’t look to the human eye as if it was.  Only when I looked at my camera screen did it start jumping about manically.

An unusual fatality sign is just the kind of titbit that you want on a blog, is it not?  But, all my photo can do is illustrate a rumination about the weirdness of how digital photography sometimes interacts with reality.

Sometimes, such weirdness can be entertaining, but here only a frustration.

Although, interestingly, you can tell from the above photoat exactly what time it was taken.

This sign, on the other hand, proved to be entirely photoable:


Under what circumstances might the photographability of an electronic sign be of significance to someone other than a mere blogger?

  1. In Morocco last week, someone made fun of me a little for taking a photograph of a sign giving departure times of buses in a bus timetable. That the photograph was not in fact for me to look at when I got back to my home country , but was to look at in my hotel room when I wanted to recall the bus times did not occur, I do not think.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on  09 May 2011 at 05:14 pm

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